Ethics In The Workplace
by Jeff Montgomery
I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about an interesting consequence of new technologies in the workplace. It is possible, the article reported, to make it seem like you are actually in your office doing work when you're really somewhere else.
As an example, the writer briefly talked about a guy that used some software on his palm device to bring up different screens on his office computer to make it look like he was working, all while he was sitting in a nearby diner.
My first reaction was to laugh. In fact, it still is a humorous thought. Imagine the possibilities! Leave your lights on and computer powered up when you leave at night, and the next day enjoy a leisurely day on the golf course or shopping! Forward your messages to your cell phone, and access your PC through your palm device to switch the work on your computer. No one will ever know you're not there!
Perhaps I find this humorous because, a long time ago I theorized that I could leave my suit jacket (this was when most men still wore suits to work) hanging in my office, leave the computer up, and take an unscheduled day off. I never did this, being a good boy and all, but it was fun to think about.
The New York Times recently dealt with a similar situation when it was revealed that one of their reporters had been fabricating stories, pretending to be out of town on assignment when he was actually still in New York, using his cell phone and laptop to check in and file stories.
Of course, doing something like this brings up just a few ethical dilemmas for the Christian in the workplace, or for that matter any ethical person. While these are extreme examples, we all should look at ourselves and see if we have times where we may have been, in a much less dramatic way, a bit of a slacker.
The article quoted a manager as saying "If everybody did this, work would stop and the company would go bankrupt!" And, of course, he would be right. Work is what keeps the wheels turning no matter what your work entails. Teachers have to teach so people get educated, policemen keep us safe from danger, businesspeople keep the engines of commerce running. If we all took a flyer on a regular basis things would go bad pretty fast.
As Christians we have a responsibility to do what God gives us to do. All of us have work that He has given us, and He expects us to carry it out with responsibility. Ultimately, everything we do is for the glory of God, no matter how mundane or how much we might dislike it. He expects us to set a good example in our places of work, and to carry out our duties in that spirit.
It's kind of like Jesus' admonition to 'give to Caesar what is Caesar's'. By placing us under a leadership structure, He expects us to do what these leaders expect of us, as long as what they ask us to do is ethical. Our respective bosses expect us to perform a certain amount of work. In effect, what we give to this Caesar (that is not a comment on bosses, just an extension of the point) is our labors.
Of course, in return for those labors we get paid. Getting paid is a good thing. If a boss expects us to perform at a certain level for the wages we are paid, are we not cheating them if we don't perform? By sneaking out early regularly, or taking long lunches, or doing non-work related Internet surfing we are wasting our companies' money. In short, our stewardship of resources is not very good.
At the company I work for, an admonishment recently came down from the CEO about people coming in late and leaving early. He asked the question "Am I getting my money's worth?" And that's the point. We all want to make sure that we get value in return for money that we shell out. From a Christian standpoint, think of it this way: God has shelled out His grace on us by giving us useful work to do, is He receiving a good value in return?
Finally, in his encyclical 'On Human Work' Pope John Paul II writes that work allows us to be fully human, and gives us the opportunity to bring dignity to that work. God endows us with certain skills and abilities, and it is only through work that we can fully realize the God-given potential of those skills.
In that light, we are really cheating God when we engage in a little slacker time. Beyond the earthly concerns of wages and responsibilities to our companies, we are not allowing ourselves to fully experience the dignity that comes through work. Certainly we all need some down time every now and then, and most companies provide that through vacations and holidays. But taking down time when we should be working really robs us of the chance to fulfill God's gifts to us.
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